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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sometimes, the best stories don’t come from the front of the pack.
And sometimes, those stories are worthy of a national audience. Such is the case of the tale of Adam Todd and Evan Hansen, which captured attention far beyond Noelridge Park.
Nearly two weeks have passed since Hansen, a 16-year-old sophomore from Iowa City High, gently guided a distracted Todd back on course at the back of a junior varsity race at the Mississippi Valley Conference cross country super meet. In that time, the two have become linked on Facebook posts, on television, both local and beyond.
Last week, ABC News named Hansen and Todd its World News Tonight Persons of the Week.
“A lot of people know what happened now,” Hansen said. “I’ve gotten a lot of interviews. Iowa Public Radio talked to me just the other day.
“It’s just very, very weird.”
Todd is a 17-year-old junior at Cedar Rapids Washington. He suffers from Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy and has “a lot of autistic features,” according to his mother, Sara Todd.
“The course at Noelridge is really nice, but unfortunately, there are so many distractions,” his mother said. “There’s Collins Road. And on the (south) side of the bridge, there’s a pool, a playground and the tennis courts. Those are the things that Adam gets distracted by. He likes to stop, look and listen.”
Todd was running the JV race at the super meet. So was Hansen, who has been slowed this season by balky knees as the result of a growth spurt — he has grown from 5-foot-8 to 6-1 in less than a year.
They were running together at the back of the race at a point on the course in which there’s a fork in the road. Several runners, about a mile ahead of them, were turning toward the finish chute, while Todd and Hansen still had another loop to make. That’s where Todd got distracted.
And that’s where Hansen took it upon himself to assist.
“It just kind of happened,” Hansen said. “I think, subconsciously, I made the decision to get him through the race. I just kind of turned around, grabbed his hand, and started running.”
And that’s how they ran, together, the last mile.
Todd finished the 5,000-meter race in 36:24, Hansen in 36:25. They were the final two runners to cross the finish line.
“It’s weird how fate brought them together,” City High Coach Jayme Skay said. “Here’s two individuals ... on a lot of teams, they wouldn’t be out there, they would have been cut from the team. But that’s not how cross country works.
“I was standing at the finish line, and Evan didn’t come in and didn’t come in. I couldn’t find the rest of the team. (Washington Coach) Will (Harte) was trying to tell me what was happening, but he couldn’t get it all out, he was so choked up.
“By the time I found the rest of my team, they were by the foot bridge, cheering those two guys on.”
Todd always is accompanied by an adult on the course. This wasn’t the first time this season he has run with assistance from rival teams’ runners. A boy from Aplington-Parkersburg ran hand-in-hand with him at the Cedar Falls Invitational. A competitor from North Scott did likewise at Muscatine.
“Each time, I find myself almost in tears,” Harte said.
So, why all the attention on Hansen? Well, there was a camera. And there’s social media.
“I have an opinion on this,” Harte said. “This story came out about two hours after the last presidential debate, and people saw Evan Hansen’s act, and it was such a rebuke to all the mean-spiritedness we saw at the debate.
“It was a reminder of who we are, and why it matters to be good.”
“Evan is such a good-hearted kid,” he said. “All this attention, he just takes it with a grain of salt. But after what we’ve seen on TV lately, society needed to see something like this.”
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